The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde
Official Summary: “In the good old days, magic was indispensable—it could both save a kingdom and clear a clogged drain. But now magic is fading: drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are used for pizza delivery. Fifteen-year-old foundling Jennifer Strange runs Kazam, an employment agency for magicians—but it’s hard to stay in business when magic is drying up. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of an unnamed Dragonslayer. If the visions are true, everything will change for Kazam—and for Jennifer. Because something is coming. Something known as … Big Magic.”
Jasper Fforde is already well-known for his series of books following Thursday Next’s adventures through Bookworld and for his Nursery Crimes books, among others, but with The Last Dragonslayer, Fforde enters the new market of young adult fiction. In many ways, The Last Dragonslayer bears the hallmark of other Fforde books. It takes place in an alternate universe where fantastical events are everyday and it follows a strong central heroine who is, in some ways, reminiscent of Thursday. At the same time, however, this book is one that is clearly aimed more directly at young adults. The heroine is a teenage girl named Jennifer Strange who has been raised first by an order of nuns and most recently by a group of wizards for whom she works. With the disappearance of Mr. Zambini, Jennifer finds herself in the unfortunate position of managing Kazam Mystical Arts Management and trying to wrangle a crazy cast of magic practitioners. Times have been tough for the group, so word of a prophecy that the last dragon will die soon, an event that will have an unknown impact on the very existence of magic, throws the group into disarray. Since there can only be a single Dragonslayer, Jennifer sets off to find the one who will be responsible for the dragon’s death in an attempt to save magic and Kazam.
Fans of Fforde’s previous works will see similarities in both style and themes between his adult works and this novel. As with his other works, this book is set in a recognizable facsimile of the United Kingdom that has been turned on its head. The fantastical exist next to the mundane and give a sense of a world that is at once completely unbelievable and strangely realistic. He does an excellent job of creating creatures that don’t seem possible and making them not only believable but also sympathetic. Even his conception of dragons, a traditional element of fantasy stories, is unique and feels grounded in the world that he has created. Jennifer is a strong protagonist who feels realistically like a teenager trying to keep it all together without many adults on whom she can truly rely. She is not perfect and sometimes seems a bit gullible, but this is mostly because she endearingly takes people at face value, at least initially. The reader is left with a sense that she learns from her mistakes and, while it can feel as though she has little control over her fate at certain points in the story, she is always clearly trying to do the right thing.
This novel will be a great introduction to Fforde’s work for middle grade and young adult readers. But, even readers of his adult books will want to check this one out. It is a fun adventure that centers on a new world, but that has the same humor, satire and style that Fforde has become known for through his earlier books. It is a quick read and left me waiting for the next two books in the trilogy (for any Canadian or British readers, the second book is already available in the UK and Canada). I would definitely recommend it!
Note: This review is based on a copy of the British edition of this book, which was published in 2010.
Check it Out: The U.S. edition of this book will be available on October 2nd and is currently available for pre-order.
Readalike: If you haven’t read Jasper Fforde’s other books, I would recommend starting with them. You can find more information on all of his books and get a sense of his humor on his website. Existing fans of Fforde who are looking for similar options should check out Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently books, starting with Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, or Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.